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Ask the Readers: Should it all be Free?

The most controversial price in the world is… free.

If you’ve ever read a blog about blogging and list building, you know that one of the very first things you do is create an awesome piece of content and give it away for free in exchange for an email address.

And the free giveaways don’t stop there. All or most of the content on your blog will be free, as well your newsletter content, and possible trials of your products and services.

These days, a lot can be had for free.

Is this the way it should be?

Look at it this way: Once a piece of content or other digital product is created, distribution costs almost nothing , it’s a matter of making something available to download through a link. You set it up once and then there is unlimited download potential. How much should an item of this nature cost?

On the other hand, bloggers and other business owners making a living online need to be compensated, and an income that accrues whether or not you’re actively spending time on something is the golden apple that bloggers are looking for.

Of course, free products and samples can be a great way to get people interested in physical products or services, for example (it’s real-time audience research at it’s best!)- but when people get something for free – often they have no desire to pay for something down the line. They just want more and more for free.

So what do you think? What does giving something away for free cost you? Is it worth it? Should bloggers start charging for more of their digital giveaways?

What is information really worth today? Please leave a comment and let us know what you think!


About Megan Dougherty

Megan Dougherty is an alumnus of Mirasee and is passionate about online education, small business and making a difference in the world. You can find out what she's up to and how side-hustles will take over the world at Follow her on Twitter at @MeganTwoCents.

58 thoughts on “Ask the Readers: Should it all be Free?

  1. I think this is a very good question with a very tricky answer…
    These days, for people to even look your way, you *have* to offer some quality content for free. It needs to be enough to show your level of expertise and understanding of the area you’re specializing in… But beyond that, I think it really depends on who you are trying to target. You can offer a ton of quality content for free that other people are offering for pay ***ONLY*** if you know for sure that your customers are the ones who are going to need (and ultimately be willing to pay for) even more than you are giving. Bottom line: you’ve got to know your target audience really, really well.

  2. Information is and should be free or at very law cost. It’s what beyond information that should cost – expertise, know how, leading one through that info, figuring the best use of this info for a particular user, etc.
    Hence a book costs much less of a guided course, which costs less then personal training or guidance.

  3. There are 3 specific pieces for each side of the marketing equation…Message, Media and Market. In order to get the right message out through the right media and market; many times your are required to offer “value” through free content or services in order to nurture the relationship to a level that they are ready and willing to pay for additional information and/or services that will ultimately solve an existing problem and support repeat sales.

    If you don’t offer great value with the FREE offer, there isn’t an incentive there to look at future offerings. As we all know, good marketing, time and resources comes at a cost, but if you don’t give prospects a reason to raise their hand and ask for more, all the Free offers aren’t worth any time or resources.

  4. Hi Megan,
    Yes, it takes considerable time and effort to create a download then give it away for free. But is it really like creating the most beautiful piece of artwork, then giving it away?
    In my opinion, when it comes to information products, they are not the same as the above example. Your giveaway should be full of value, but have “just a taste” of what you can really offer to a potential customer.
    Firepole Marketing is a prime example of how to do it right. Give a good download away in order to build the list, nurture a trusted relationship with the list, then offer your services. The giveaway is the starting point of building the relationship.
    Where the decision of whether to charge or not comes in to play is if you are a service based or product based business.
    Information is only worth what a customer is willing to pay. If the customer doesn’t have any idea of the value a service would bring to them, then the customer is probably not going to purchase anything at all.

    • D! Great response, and it got me thinking a little bit about my own.

      I’d like to offer an interesting possibility ๐Ÿ™‚

      You may like it, may not…

      I agree with you about things being worth what others are willing to pay.

      At the same time I believe that part comes second, and that FIRST a personal decision must be made about what our widget is worth, and when we firmly and solidly BELIEVE in the value, the inspiration to frame and present the value to the customer will persuade them.

      Basically — unlike most people discussing this topic on the net — I propose that the worth of something is tied to the decision, conviction, and belief of the creator.

      What do you think?

      • Hi Jason ๐Ÿ™‚

        That is true that the worth has to be tied to the decision, conviction, and belief of the creator. If one doesn’t believe in what they are doing, then why are they doing it?

        Whether one is marketing online or flipping burgers at Burger King, a person must believe that what they do is a valuable service to others. Without that conviction, one’s business/work performance will be lousy, no one will ever see you as a value, “climbing the ladder to the top” is not going to happen, and therefore becoming a success is out of the question.

  5. What is the most valuable piece of real-estate on the internet today?

    Not domain names (with Google changes and new TLDs coming soon, they are a dime a dozen).

    Not good Pagerank or almost any other ranking factor (anybody can get it with time and knowledge).

    The most valuable piece of real-estate on the internet today is readers. Without readers, you are nothing. You are dead in the water.

    The problem is that readers don’t have to read your blog. Sure, good content helps, but these days, there are millions of blogs with good content. So why should readers return to your blog?

    One answer: free stuff.

    That is why I not only give away a free ebook to my newsletter subscribers, but I give them another free ebook every 3-4 months. There is no better way of gaining and keeping an audience than through “free.”

      • First of all, advertising brings in some revenue, and the more readers I have the more ad revenue I make.

        But secondly, only new ebooks are available for free. Older books (which were free when they first came out) are made available for purchase. So if a new subscriber likes the free ebooks they are getting and wants to get the ones from previous years which they missed, they will have to buy them.

        • Jeremy,
          I surely prefer the idea of receiving something free if I jump on it, and late-comers must pay! How many times have I paid for something only to find it given away, later?! It feels like being cheated. Of course, perhaps, after many years, the old stuff might be only marginally useful and then… perhaps it would be better updated and re-offered, eh?
          Thanks for these ideas.

  6. No, it should not ALL be free.

    But the question that your paid content has to answer is: What additional value are you providing to the customer, which is worth paying for?

    Example: I’ve published more than 300 free English lessons (and 3 free books) on my website, which people really enjoy. I also have paid courses, and technically the info inside the paid courses COULD be obtained for free, if you spent the hours of research as I did to gather it from various sources and turn it into an easily understandable, applicable form, put together all the videos and create practice exercises, etc.

    The value I provide is saving people the time so that they don’t HAVE to spend hours surfing Google to put together all the pieces – instead, they can purchase a course that they know is good quality and easy to consume. It’s why you go to a restaurant even though you technically could cook the meal yourself at home.

    One tip is to make your paid stuff of a fundamentally different “type” than the free stuff. Examples off the top of my head:

    – Free content is just text; paid content includes in-depth videos
    – Free content is just info; paid content includes consulting/community
    – Free content is weekly; paid content is daily
    – Free content is only available online; paid content is downloadable

    This helps you showcase your BEST free work, while still keeping a distinct line between it and your paid offerings.

    • I love this list Shayna. The switch to paid is usually the most difficult aspect of the whole online/blogging business model. I hadn’t really thought about differentiating in the ways you mention here, but the wheels are turning now…:-) Thanks!

  7. This is pretty interesting in that now-a-days free offers really do need to be just as good as paid offers; if you want people to keep coming back.

    But I do agree with Shayna in that it shouldn’t all be free. I think that key is killer content to the point where people say I cant believe this stuff is free. When the free content is so well done it really gives a boost to the paid products/services and people are probably more likely to buy because you have a reputation for amazing content. But of course we know that consistent killer content can take a tremendous amount of work. So we have to be really willing to put the time.

    I liked the break down that Shayna gave and I thought that Jeremy’s free ebook offer is a really good idea.

  8. HI Megan
    This got me thinking and seems there is agreement here that it’s a balancing act. We’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, from the free content helping to create strong relationships with people who get a great taste of what we offer and how we work and then go on to become paying clients, through to those who are just after the freebie and are never going to pay no matter how great your offer.

    The flip side for us is that we’ve also seen how much more people value what you’re offering once they’ve invested their own hard earned cash into it, and the more they value it the more the put in and the better results they get – so free is not always better!

  9. This is a great question.

    Certainly free content in the form of blogs, articles, interviews, an opt-in freebie, etc. draw people to your website and get them to sign up for your newsletter. It also helps with the know-like-trust factor. My business coach used to tell a story about how some people would look at her website and just sign up for a coaching program and some people would be on her newsletter list for YEARS (like, 7-8 years) before they invested in a coaching program.

    For me, free content takes a couple hours of my time each week and helps me to get a better idea of what my audience is looking for (feedback on content) and inspires people to enroll in coaching programs or take the first step and do a breakthrough session with me. It also establishes expertise!

    So, I guess what I’m saying is that free content is totally worth it. I know, however, that a lot of people just expect everything to be free. I think if you stick to something like free-free-free-fee or giving people the what to do and some of the how to do it and leave the rest for your coaching program, that’s a good balance. Seth Godin is the expert at this, I’m convinced. :]

  10. I’ve been working on a book that I’m going to give away for free. And when I brought it in to my writing group, everyone asked me in shocked tones “why are you giving this away?”

    I think there is a definite place for free content. But there are some major drawbacks. I’ve been writing for since 1997, and my content is available for free over the web. I’m paid for my work, but the customers don’t have to pay to read or use it.

    The free availability of this content seems to drive a perception that writing is “easy” and thus not worth more than “free.” I often worry that because my readers aren’t paying something for my work, they don’t value it. And in many cases, this is true. They aren’t willing to spend any money to get more from me. But I have also written three books, and aside from the first (that came out two days before the software it was about was cancelled) all have sold, primarily to people who recognize my name and know that I offer quality writing. So, the free content benefited me.

    I am striving now to offer valuable things for free so that my customers and clients know that when I ask them to pay for something I’m asking because that something is even more valuable and worth the money.

    As others have said, it’s a tough balancing act, but I think it can work, as long as you don’t forget to charge for something eventually. I have yet to find the landlord who will accept books in lieu of rent. ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Good question! I think that, due to the exceeding information we have today (we have news about everywhere and anytime and everything, and information seems to really be “too much” for how much we can be informed) it may be useful to spend more time in producing information, making it more valuable and selling it, so that we will have less free information and we will get informed on what it really matters to us.
    But, on the other hand, free information is what the web has been built for..
    Maybe this issue will make people think about, and change the way of how info is spread today. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. The concept of free isn’t new.
    You take a free test drive before you buy a vehicle.
    You get free product samples in the mail.
    You get free samples of food at Costco.
    You get a free 30 day trial on many things, called a money back guarantee.
    As mentioned before, you have to establish credibility and “free” seems to work well. It’s just the entry cost of your marketing.
    Rather than think of your giveaway as free, think of it as a test drive, or a sample, or a trial period.
    And your real prospects (not the freeloaders) are extending their trust to you, in the form of their precious time, hoping that you’ll be the answer they need. They REALLY want your product or service to solve their problem, so they can stop looking and move closer to their objective.

    • Matt, you said just what I was going to say. Free samples are nothing new, so they must work.
      Even when we purchase a paint sample to see how the color looks on our walls before we order gallons of it, we think of it as a nearly free sample, and we grasp how no one can give away everything all the time.
      If someone is looking for paint, he will pay for a sample. The same is true for my content. If someone is looking for my type of content, he will try the sample.
      Only fools buy things sight-unseen, and my customers are not fools.

  13. I think that a freebie gives someone a first taste of what something is all about. We download, we peruse, we form our impressions, and then depending on the nature of that impression, we either come back or leave.

    Over the course of time, the quality of that freebie and what is offered online ideally creates a sense of trust and wins our support, so that we are more likely to return again and again. Continual deliver of what we are interested in makes us willing to pay for something offered by someone we now believe in.

  14. I can vouch for sure, majority of people are looking for free stuff online. It is only when it is not available for free, they start looking for payment options. When it comes to paying for the digital stuff, most people back out. According to me, value of a product is known only when people have to pay for it. Hence, if you want your product to be of real value, it should not go free.

  15. In my opinion, Rich Schefren does it the best. He fills his website with testimonials from “gurus” that he has taught like, Tony Robbins, Mike Filsaime and Brian Tracy.

    So when you download one of his free reports, you are already primed with the idea that his paid content is A grade. On top of that, he one amazing free report that really opens up your mind to really online business, but there is a huge gaping hole in the report, that I suspect was made especially to create a need for the paid content.

    Though it’s a bit manipulative, it has worked wonders for him and other millionaire marketers, like Jeff Walker. So I think that it is worth creating free stuff but with an end goal in mind. All of his free ebooks are basically a very informative sales pitch.

  16. My take:

    People get too caught up on what other people think, what the world thinks, what the market thinks etc.

    Most of the world thinks the “worth” of something is determined by the buyer.

    Then they read firepole and they start to think maybe the “worth” is determined by the seller, but with a ceiling put in place by “the market”

    Ultimately though, that ceiling of “worth” can be raised by anyone with the will & the perspective. Oh sure, they seem rare, but a dominant, strong personality can sell ice to the eskimos and get them to celebrate the purchase.

    Is what Kim Kardashian provides worth what she gets paid for it? Is the janitorial work of my grandfather worth any less as he helped the kids in the schools, some of whom may be the next Kim Kardashian? Or is it simply their own decision, perspective, and ability to frame the value that determines things?

    If I get a book of information made by some 20 year old who doesn’t really believe his business or creation is important, is worth the same as the identical information endorsed by Kim?

    Wisdom is my natural gift, my calling. And I’ve given away tons of rare, elite, exclusively valuable wisdom for free — tons. Insane amounts. I’ve also flipped the perspective, re-framed the value, and for the exact same service charged, and been paid, $500/hr for it.

    What changed? Not the information. Not even the presentation (at least not at first). Purely my self-esteem.

    The moral of the story?

    Meaning, value, and worth are personal decisions directly tied to, and reflective of their self-esteem.

    When I share an idea like this, some will agree, some will not — but generally everyone has some definite food for thought.

    2 cents, enjoy ๐Ÿ˜‰

      • Thanks Katharine!

        And you make a great point yourself!

        It reeeaaally got me thinking — and expressing ๐Ÿ™‚ Ready?

        Short answer: YES (depending on how metaphysical you wanna get…)

        For example, I give away insanely valuable stuff in my information products, or even in the comments section of blogs like Firepole. It’s literally what I get paid to do — my in-depth views and insightful clarity are exclusive, rare, and what I excel at.

        The customer base who likes it when I do this are definitely interesting. Do they value my free offering? From what I’ve seen so far… not significantly. Does that make it “worth-less” ?

        Hell no.

        I decide it’s worth, and I 100% know it.

        And so… as you said – the customer base may change.

        Which is fine.

        There are many who had their chance, they had access to me for insanely low barriers to entry and rock-bottom prices.

        Now, I’m in the process of pivoting Ryze’s brand and targeting an entirely different (new and powerfully growing market) — in which Ryze is a born market-leader.

        Ryze is the first, only, and the founder of a new industry: Luxury-Grade Life-Coaching.

        There’s luxury-grooming for pets. There’s luxury-education in Montessori schools.

        But so far, there’s just a bunch of average-players in the life-coaching market.

        Until now… Ryze is far above average ๐Ÿ™‚

        So I’m basically your point — in action. I decide what it’s worth, and we’ll watch the customer base change as I pivot the brand.

        ‘Cause yeah, the customer base who’re hungry for free offers are drastically different from the one’s eager to pay my rates.

        Fortunately, there’s 7 billion peeps on the planet (and growing,) and when I crunch the numbers, there’s a significant # of hungry one’s waiting for Ryze ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Short answer: no, everything should not be free. But as Copyblogger, Seth Godin and our own friend Danny have shown, free content is the path to success.

    The challenge, of course, is to have BOTH awesome free content AND awesome paid content.

    If only it was as easy to do as saying it… ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. First, I think good content needs to be paid.

    What I wonder is that everyone here is saying that people want free staff–do you know these people? What’s the cause of their habit of getting only free things? Have you done any research on their habits? How’s your content effecting them?

    If you want do real business, you need to charge those who consume your contents,etc. But the first question regarding with free that who needs to be changed. You? Your audience?

    As Seth Godin cited an example in his blog: “Spammers in Nigeria continue to use poorly written, ridiculous pitches. Not because they cause people to give up their senses and send tens of thousands of dollars, but because the kind of person that falls for something so dumb is probably the kind of person who is also going to be easily scammed.”

    He suggested,” it probably makes sense to understand what will change the causes of someone’s perception and habits, and use the signal as a way of figuring out who needs to be taught.”

    I think his post really makes sense.

  19. Hi Megan,

    This is a great question โ€“ and my answer to your great question it two fold …

    First โ€“ I don’t know the answer. I have always thought that it depends on your business model.

    I have seen very successful online entrepreneurs on both extremes of the Internet marketing spectrum: On one extreme there are those not giving very much free content away โ€“ and on the opposite extreme there are those giving tons of free content away.

    Second โ€“ย what is the Audience Business Masterclass answer to this great question?

    Thank you very much Megan.

  20. I have a software business, and I think that free content is a terrible idea, and yet I reluctantly, also provide some. The current theory is that you provide something for free, and someone will pay you more for something else. Although I do not see that actually happening. People take the free stuff and skedaddle, usually without even so much as a “thank you.”

    People who say that software should be free because it costs very little to distribute it are ignoring all the other costs that are involved in designing, developing and supporting software. Software does not miraculously spring forth in an instant wishing to be distributed.

    The original idea behind free software was that if you want software you should pay UPFRONT to have it developed for you and then it will be free to distribute, and you would still PAY for additional work and for support. The source code could be shared and improved upon, and ideas would flourish, and programmers would continue to be able to eat pizza. This sort of works for freelance software development for businesses. Sometimes for open source infrastructure projects that all developers can invest their time in to make the underlying thing better for everyone.

    However, the consumer software world was not set up to pay for things upfront. People expected to pay for software in a box when it was done. It was a different business model. As a developer, you recouped your development expenses, included your manufacturing costs, and projected your support costs to come up with a fair price. People accepted that because at least there was a little manufacturing cost for the box.

    However somewhere around the time that software became downloadable easily, the idea of paying upfront for software got turned around to not paying for software, at all, because there no longer was a box. People expected software to be free. Then, that spread and people wanted music for free. Fans will pay musicians for T-shirts, but not for years of practicing guitar and for having a fertile imagination! By extension, before long, expectations grew that all digitally available content should be free, or nearly free. “Electrons don’t cost anything, why should I pay?” No mention of server farms or IT costs in that argument either.

    A healthy economy requires people to pay for stuff, including “content” which is really a word used to downgrade intellectual property. Creative people deserve to earn money in dignified ways for their experience and skill. With a little money in their pocket from you, they can then buy something else, like maybe cheese pizza from YOU.

    The only hope I see for the “pay upfront” idea to work with consumer digital products is Kickstarter. Venture Capitalists are not likely to invest upfront in software development if it doesn’t lead to big profits quickly later. Independent software developers are less likely to be able to invest their time and savings in making software, except as a side project to more reliable sources of revenue. In other words, “Don’t quit your day job.” The payoff for content producers, developers, writers, musicians, artists, has to come from somewhere.

    For me, the answer is “no, it should not all be free,” because it is about respect for your own work, for your own time, and for artists of all kinds and for their creative work.

    Now. That will be two cents, please. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Caroline has it right. My own commentary from the music instructor’s viewpoint is below, but it pretty much echos what she says here. My only comment is that many folks do not have “day jobs” in my field at least cause we don’t take dumbass orders from dumbasses.

    • I have a slightly different perspective on free. My husband is a singer/musician. We live in a city where too many good musicians play for free. My husband charges $500 for 2 hours by himself or $4000 with his trio. He refuses to give his talent away.

      We just booked a gig in for the trio… $4000. A friend booked his 10 piece band for $100. That’s $10 a piece for really talented musicians. If you believe in your worth, in your value, (and you actually have value) people will pay.

      We are always encouraging musicians not to play for free. Venues get people to play for free and will NEVER pay an act because of it, hurting all musicians. They don’t want to pay for something they can get for free. Hmmm I guess it applies in many areas of life.

  21. Call me weird, but I don’t think of the Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs that I give away as a “free product”. It’s a gift! And gifts are free, both of cost and of obligation/expectation.

    To me, the whole point of an info product is that the info was already available somewhere in the world, probably for free, but a lot of people will pay to save themselves the trouble of finding the *right* info and making sense of it. People tell me they’d have paid for my Ultimate List – that took a couple of weeks of part-time research. People pay $500 for an hour of J-Ryze’s wisdom – that took a lifetime of study, experiment and experience.

    • Sophie you raise an awesome point — the language around these things is pretty convoluted, and it’s a reflection that thinking is generally convoluted.

      “Free” means different things to different people – all the way from those who feel NOTHING is free, to those who feel LIFE is a GIFT.

      “Gift” means diff things too.

      as does “Sell”

      as does “Product”

      as does “Offer”

      It’s really kind of hilarious to me ๐Ÿ™‚

      • That makes sense – “product” is something that’s produced. Whether you think of it as implying moneymaking, egg-laying, or mathematics depends on your context and your mindset. And then “produce” as a noun to mean fresh foodstuffs is just one more quirk to make you smile…

  22. Great question at the right time. Now I am a very struggling business person who is deeply in debt. I don’t have a ton of money like I used to. So everything I say should be seen through that filter.

    I offer a great deal of free content and as a professional writer, I suspect it is valuable. I know I have a very few folks who find it worthwhile. All of them are older folks. I value them a great deal.

    Some people think that “info should be free.” What they often mean is “free to them.” However, I paid for it with the irreplaceable minutes of my life, my efforts, and my understanding. Nothing is every truly free in this world, somebody pays. It is extremely self-centered to only think about yourself.

  23. Totally agree with Mary – “If you donโ€™t offer great value with the FREE offer, there isnโ€™t an incentive there to look at future offerings. As we all know, good marketing, time and resources comes at a cost, but if you donโ€™t give prospects a reason to raise their hand and ask for more, all the Free offers arenโ€™t worth any time or resources.”

    Two examples – You offered Engagement From Scratch for free, then had a free seminar with a product offering. I bought the product, in part because of Engagement, but also because it offered me a way to experience your work at a price I was willing to pay for that experience.

    You promoted Daniel Levis who also did a free seminar with product offering, BUT, because I had not previously heard of him and therefore no experience of his work – I did not want to spend the substantial purchase price to get an experience that had too many unknowns for me.

    THEN, subsequent to the seminar Daniel sent a free offer (a really great interview with Michael Fishman), and I purchased the product he offered at that time 1) because of the quality he had delivered in the free offer, and 2) because the product was similar to what I had just experienced in the free offer, and 3) because the price reflected the value I felt he was going to deliver.

  24. I totally believe in the effectiveness of free samples. Who is dumb enough to buy anything site-unseen? Not my customers! Every vendor should be honest enough to allow the customer to inspect the goods. My jeweler friend lets me try on jewelry before I buy it, also offering a mirror for my free use, to see how it looks on me.

    However, there always will be the children who cruise Sam’s Club, sampling, just for the fun of it. We also always will have the poor with us. Every vendor also must be wise enough to figure out a way to keep himself from being robbed. My jeweler friend always returns all the things I’ve tried on to a locked cabinet after the sale, and locks the store when he goes home at night, I am sure.

    Also the local police try the doors of his store twice every night, which points to my one question: How do we deal with pirating issues when we’re giving it away? Is it possible to stop such activity? I have encountered this problem more than once.

    Thanks for your answer, and thanks for this great (free) post!

  25. Hi Megan,
    I like the half and half approach. The idea is that milk and cream may taste good in coffee, but half and half tastes the best (ok, not if you drink black coffee!).
    Translating this idea: Give away some free material as a prelude and to familiarize the audience with what to expect + launch material that takes the reader into a deeper sense of understanding and engagement as paid material or membership sites.

    I used to have the opinion that all the best content should be given away completely free. While this sounds like a great idea, there might be a few things to consider:
    1. Free is not always equal to value. In fact, there is the tendency to view free as “taken for granted” or “not good enough.” While people will deny and argue that this is not the case, it may be undeniable that paid content has a higher value in the perception that we view it with.

    2. While free content may be great for some people, it is just part of the “collecting stuff” for many others. Giving away everything for free will not make an audience come back for more and more importantly engage in a deeper and more meaningful manner. Free is good but if it prevents a deeper level of understanding, then it may miss the mark.
    Great initial free content provides a wonderful hook and a platform for engagement while making the reader seek more.
    Too much free stuff may cause over consumption and under experience. What I would like to see is less consumption and more consciousness or awareness of the material.
    This seems to be a general problem however. Society seems to place more emphasis on consumption but less on awareness and experience. Hey, companies need to sell more right? The word free becomes a trigger for consumption and collection whether we have the time for it or if it is right for us.

    3. Successful businesses provide an experience, a feeling and they invoke a sense of deep natural connectedness. Free serves this purpose very well if it is an introduction to what lies in store (literally!) for the customer. Free should be a hook, a prelude, an introduction and a sampling of what lies ahead. And I do not see why that should not be the case for digital information products.

    I think giving away something free for your audience in order for them to experience what they might find when they go deeper into the material is a great start. The free material should inspire them to come back and connect deeper with the owner of the material. And when they connect and engage in a deep, meaningful manner, both the reader and the owner benefit.

    My two cents worth ๐Ÿ™‚

  26. Great topic to discuss, Megan.

    I’m ecstatic with how free works in my business. I love giving out free stuff, and currently give subscribers a free 21-week e-course. I also send out other occasional freebie videos, transcripts and other trainings to my list. It builds huge loyalty. I checked recently and 3,000 people have taken or are taking the e-course! Kinda mind-blowing.

    Since building up the quality of what I give out free, I’ve seen a huge difference in how easy it is to sell my paid products. After switching from just a short free report to the longer freebie, I went to sell my $300 marketing course for writers, a process that used to take 3 weeks and involve a lot of marketing.

    This time, I sent one email and sold out nearly 40 slots of it in a few days, when we were trying to just get 30 students! When people have a chance to see in depth the quality of what you have to teach them, they can’t wait to sign up for your paid level. I have 1,500 people on a waitlist for my paid community now as well — where in the past, before the bigger e-course, that list was half that size.

    The thing I’d say is…while you’re building free, be sure to be creating your paid products! I know too many bloggers who go years and don’t have a product to sell. In that case, free isn’t serving you well…it’s just depriving you of a viable business model.

    • Dear Comments Reader,

      Please stop here, look up a little, and read the last paragraph of Carol’s comment above. Free products won’t make you any money unless you also have something valuable to sell!

      Just thought that was worth drawing attention to. Thanks, Carol, for always keeping the big picture in mind and helping the rest of us to see it too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  27. I can’t remember who I read this from, but when I first started trying to make money online I found a model that worked for me:

    1. Break your information into three parts: Basic, Intermediate, Advanced
    2. The Basic info is given away completely free on your site/social media/etc
    3. The Intermediate is given in exchange for an email address
    4. The Advanced content has to be paid for. No exceptions.

    This worked well for me for a long time. Although I find it much more difficult to do in the Foodie world then I did in the Online Marketing world.

    And I DO NOT think everything should be free. In my experience, people do not value things they get for free nearly as much as things they pay for. It helps your clients to pay you. It creates accountability.

  28. All of us have our big boy and big girl pants on.
    Nothing in life is free. Even online.

    Offering a service at no cost means you’re essentially lowering the
    barrier to entry so you can audition your talents to as many
    people as possible. If you do a good enough job, the first thought to
    pop into the readers’ minds should be, “Man! If this person’s free stuff
    is this good, imagine what his paid products and services can
    do for me.” And that’s when the magic starts…

    The best way to generate a lot of business later is to give away a little
    bit of it now. With so much skepticism these days, it’s more important
    than ever for people to be who they say they are. Sample products at
    no cost are a great way for potential customers to realize that there
    really is a gift inside the box – instead of just a pretty bow and some
    fancy wrapping paper (read: slick marketing).

    Thanks so much for posting this article, Danny. I love the way Firepole
    Marketing does business. “Just because it’s free doesn’t mean it
    isn’t valuable” is a terrific mantra. But we should always remember:
    either free or paid, products and services we don’t use cost us time.
    So don’t get it twisted. Eventually, everyone ends up paying something…

  29. If we do it right we are really giving things away for “free”
    What many of us on the web are doing is not in fact giving things away for “free”. Money may not be exchanged, but it is a transaction of value for both .
    1. To atract subscribers we are asking potential subscribers to provide their names and emails. In exchange we are giving them something of value. No different than writing your personbal info on the back of a supermarket coupon.
    2. If everything we do is straight given away for nothing then yes, that’s an unsupportable model for a business. But if we continue to offer key pieces (Note “Key” does not mean the same thing as “most valuable”) that creates the relationship, or as we like to say, engagement.
    The best of your work, that which is most valuable, can, and should be “paid for” if you are running a business.
    3. I do despair though of so many who can’t see the difference. Of buyers who beleive everything should be free, and sellers who think that somwhow the spigot will turn on with cash once they ask for money without having set a system up for clarifying the difference.
    To Jennifer who writes:
    “I am striving now to offer valuable things for free so that my customers and clients know that when I ask them to pay for something Iโ€™m asking because that something is even more valuable and worth the money. ”
    My experience is that this perspective cannot result in success. It has to be a planned, purposeful mix of paid and shared work and it should be clear to the reader what the difference is. That doesn’t demean the value of “free” it just creates clarity of expectations for both parties.
    It goes back to understanding our readers needs and providing solutions of significant value.

  30. Here’s what works for me.
    If you have a unique product, and people LOVE your content, then everything leading up to the applicable assets of the product/program should be absolutely free. In fact, once they buy, the free stuff should not only continue, but multiply.
    I do this by offering a free private member site for life, even if you only pay me $37.00 for a small program. This gives me a launching pad for my future products. Which, are many.

    The other trend I’m seeing is price point should be highly considered when offering free content. In short, when I’m featured on a tele-summit, I sell a particular program for $127.00. However, once they’re in I actually offer programs for “less”, but in there’s many of them. And, if you’re new to my site, I offer a low end risk free INCREDIBLE program for only $37.00, which used to sell for $297.00.

    This gives the customer a multitude of products to purchase that are lower in price, but my profit is higher over time as they almost always buy my new programs when they come out.

    So yes, if you have unique and great content, and your price points are right (multiple low end offers) you’ll win every time.
    Adam King
    The Tessera Method
    PS Oh yeah, make sure you offer something NO ONE else has. And on top of that, if what you offer is an experience, you’re creating absolute true and unique value.

  31. Basic economics says that nobody will pay more than what the product is worth to them. Most of the information is worth zero…why? Because most people don’t do anything with it. Just as a gold nugget in the hands of a baby is less valuable than playdough. This stuff is free because it gets a bigger audience … the audience that would pay a nickel for it, or would pay in the form of an opt-in.

    Marketers hope that they can either filter out the few who would pay more than zero into a product, or somehow convert the zero-value custoemrs into paying customers by teaching them how to value the information.

    So, yes, it should and has to be free as long as people want a large audience. Or it can be expensive and reach a smaller audience, or it can be really expensive and reach very few. How much it’s “worth” is pretty much an irrelevant question.

  32. Do we not already giveaway a ton of great information through our blog posts? That’s the freebie. That’s the free sample.

    When I first started I gave a way a free report in exchange for readers opting-in to my newsletter. A year later, as I looked at the numbers, I saw that over half of my opt-ins had never even opened one of my follow-up emails or newsletters, yet I was paying my email marketing service for having them on the list. They just wanted the freebie report.

    I think you can offer paid products for all readers, from all economical backgrounds. Why not offer a $2.00 e-book?
    1. It gives people a low-cost way to begin paying you. They see that your information is great and that buying from you is safe and easy.
    2. It also tells your readers that you value everyone and not just the ones that can pay $2000 for a higher end system.

    By taking a $500 system and breaking it all down to small pieces that can be sold for as low as buck or two, you can offer something for everyone. For example, let’s say your online marketing system is $500 and includes text, MP3, video and 2 webinars. If you take just the “building an email list” portion and condense the text to about half it’s orignal size – no MP3, no videos and no webinar access – you can sell it for just a few dollars. If a person really likes it and is convinced that they want the whole course they can apply their purchase to the system. Or they can continue to buy the system in pieces.

    I just feel that if you are giving good, useful information in your blog posts then that is your free content, that is what will keep the readers coming back. Then offer them discounts on your products, simple newsletters and/or special posts for subcribers only to get them to opt-in, not a free-ebook. If you want to give away an ebook as a gift, do it to those that are already loyal subscribers.

  33. I consider giving away content as similar to the costs of marketing. Think of the money sunk into a marketing campaign. There’s design costs, employee costs, mailing list costs. There’s a lot of cost involved with marketing.

    And the free giveaways are similar. They’re a means to making a sale. The marketing pitch. The “Hey! Did you like this? There’s more where that came from. Go to … and get it now!”

    So I think giving away content for free is just the marketing costs for the new world.

  34. What does giving something away for free cost you?
    Nothing is for free:) there is always a purpose and reason behind “free offers”. The cost of time to the blogger to share quality work is huge, and speaking of time…it cost the potential customer/visitor their time; if it’s valued to read, and DL the “free offer” and process it.

    Is it worth it? to both the blogger and readers – only if it’s quality work.

    Should bloggers start charging for more of their digital giveaways?
    I say yes, there should be a balance…give and take…or your business will turn into being a “free for all”.

  35. I have an online local news source, with a faithful and enthusiastic audience for the news I give them aplenty every day. My model is to have advertisers support the site. As I am a very good writer, but not a good saleperson, it has been an uphill climb for me.

    Yes, I have ideas for paid programs, but not the time to facilitate them, as I am either covering a meeting or event, writing it up or posting news articles and news releases at least 8-10 hours a day. The rest of the time I’m networking and trying to get advertisers in a down economy. But, although I want “subscribers,” and a responsive list, I don’t want to charge for viewers to read the news.

    If anybody has a brilliant idea how to do all of the above AND have some free time, I would love to hear it.

  36. This is a very interesting post with even more interesting comments. I loved reading everyone’s opinions. I have signed up for many email lists because I liked the free gift being given away. Most of them I have stayed subscribed to and have enjoyed the newsletters. Most I have not purchased from but my budget is very tight.

    I liked what Shayna and Renia said about determining what should be given away for free and what is paid for. It makes perfect sense.

    For me, free content really does make me more at ease with paying for a product or service because I’ve seen the quality and style.

  37. A great post. It’s an issue that is really worth consideration. I am looking forward to giving stuff away for free. While we want to convert subscribers into customers, we must remember that not everyone can afford our services. Maybe I am naive but I like to imagine that anything I give away for free is benefiting people who couldn’t afford me anyway; along with potential customers.

    I think the most important thing is that if you are going to give it for free, give it freely i.e. with no demands or expectations.

  38. Hi Megan.

    I’m too busy these days to respond right away… still trying to catch up with the FPM course. But the topic caught my interest out of all the other emails I haven’t opened up as yet. Maybe it’s because I’m still busy creating my “irresistible offer.” I think the question is somewhat of a mute one. A very wise person we both know told me recently that “ideas are over-rated,” and it resonated with me the moment he said the words.

    See… as the technology makes information so easily accessible, and as marketers continue to up the ante in terms of having something valuable to offer, the value of the actual information diminishes. From the customer or client’s point of view, a far more important question is: “Who’s giving me the information?” I have a lot more to say, but don’t want this to turn into a mini-post.

  39. Great point(s) you brought up!

    Over the last few years marketing online has turned into a ‘circus’ of giveaways! I feel for the most part more emphasis needs to be placed on marketing and NOT ‘gifting’ people! You’re absolutely right in saying the more people get for free the more they expect!

    In many ways we’re sabotaging our own businesses by setting up the expectation that most of what we offer is or will be for free!

    Could it be that most people online simply don’t know how to ‘market’ and therefore use ‘gifting carnivals’ to get traffic? Just a thought!

    Love that you ‘tackled’ this issue and do find it as a significant ‘obstacle’ when trying to get people to actually spend money!


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